Spelling it out

September 17, 2009

I enjoyed the feature on George Orwell written by my colleague at the University of Texas, Tom Palaima ("1984: it's coming", 3 September), but I would like to make one pointed clarification.

Palaima seems to imply that George Orwell titled his book by the famous numerals 1984. In reality, he was quite explicit about insisting that his novel be titled Nineteen Eighty-Four.

I agree with Palaima, however, that the abbreviated title in the form of the numeral caught the public imagination in a way that Orwell's original title, The Last Man in Europe, probably never would have done. I do not believe that his title in words, Nineteen Eighty-Four, would have had the same impact as the ideogram in Arabic numerals has exerted - which was indeed the title used in the book's first American edition.

It is also significant that the film adaptation Palaima discusses in his article, directed by Michael Radford and starring John Hurt as Winston Smith and Richard Burton as O'Brien, uses the numeral for its title: 1984.

Orwell insisted that the title be written out because he seems to have had the intuition that the numeral was a form of Newspeak comparable to the terrifying reduction of words and thoughts that he explains in his appendix to the novel, "The principles of Newspeak".

John Rodden, University of Texas at Austin.

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